a couple of years and a couple of false starts, the number of generic top-level
domains (gTLD) has just grown by seven. Together with the familiar .com,
.net, and .org as well as .edu, .gov, .mil, and the rare
we will probably soon begin to see .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum,
.name, and .pro.
The Internet Corporation
for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, announced these seven new gTLDs
in mid-November 2000. ICANN is the international non-governmental organization
chartered by the U.S. Department of Commerce to regulate numbers and names
on the Internet. ICANN's responsibilities include regulation of Internet
domain names, IP address numbers, and protocol parameter and port numbers.
ICANN also oversees the root server system, described sometimes as managing
who "owns the dot."
Subject to ultimate
U.S. Department of Commerce approval, the number of gTLDs will increase
from seven to 14 sometime in early to mid-2001. These new seven gTLDs represent
round four in the emergence of Internet domain names. The first, original
round established the original seven gTLDs and the more than 200 country-code,
top-level domains (ccTLD) under the expert guidance of Jon Postel and the
Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). IANA was a predecessor to ICANN.
The second round saw proposals for perhaps unlimited gTLDs managed in ad
hoc fashion by competing registrars. Others suggested the elimination of
alphanumeric naming conventions and the exclusive use of IP numbers. The
third round saw ICANN staff recommending seven new gTLDs: .web, .shop,
.firm, .info, .arts, .rec, and .nom. These seven name proposals
were critically received and, in the end, never implemented.
The new seven differ
from the "old" seven in the way in which they were proposed. The old seven
resulted from staff analysis and recommendations. Internet registrars proposed
the new seven as a well as others not adopted. [For a list of those that
didn't make it as well as those that did, see http://www.dot-domain-information.com/groups.html.]
to post deposits of $50,000 for the privilege of proposing new names. Each
of the successful registrars will benefit because it will sell the domain
names, the second-level domain names (2LD), within the gTLD it proposed.
(Which is which? For example, in ICANN's own URL — www.icann.org — the
gTLD is .org, the 2LD is .icann.) ICANN is now negotiating
with the registrars. Following approval by the ICANN board, those recommendations
will go to the U.S. Department of Commerce for final implementation.
What Are They?
The new gTLDs
fall into three groups: .biz and .info are group general,
is for individuals, and .aero, .coop, .museum, and
reserved for specific interests. All but .museum will help relieve
name pressure and competition in the .com domain. The .museum
gTLD will affect the .org TLD since most museums, as not-for-profits,
register there. ICANN planned to have its approval process completed by
the end of 2000. So sometime this year, we should expect to see some or
all of these domain names working on the Web.
What Do They Mean?
As the following
table shows, the magnificent seven are an eclectic bunch. As ever, everything
ICANN does is closely scrutinized and criticized by "icannoclasts." There
are problems with the ICANN process, but it would appear that ICANN's staff
attempted to bring both subject and regional balance to their decision.
Why, it has been asked, was ,aero or ,museum selected over
or .xxx?. First, I suspect there was little competition for .aero
while there is an inherent if perverse interest in .xxx and its
variants. Second, ICANN indicated that it did not want to create gTLDs
with an inherent subject classification scheme — .xxx
classified pornographic materials and .kid material appropriate
is already precedent for limiting registrations on certain gTLDs according
to membership in a class (.edu, .gov, or .mil). Thus .coop,
.museum, and .pro continue this tradition.
Note too the geographic
distribution of the registrars for the new gTLDs. Although some of the
registrars listed below have partnered with U.S. firms, there is representation
from Europe and Australia as well as the U.S. in the group.
As ever, both failed
registrars and the icannoclasts have noted these distributions as well
as the names selected. If these new seven represented the end of the gTLD
naming process, I too would be highly critical of the selection. But, I
do not expect that gTLDs will be closed with 14.
To apply for any
of these new gTLDs, contact the registrars listed. While the gTLDs have
yet to "go live," many are now accepting "reservations."
Why Do We Need Them?
New name potential.
In theory the potential combination of letters and numbers and the number
of characters that make up a URL exceeds the number of stars in the sky.
In practice and according to the Domain Name Handbook, all the good ones
are taken. Good ones are trademarks or names. Good ones carry meaning.
Many of us want
URLs that can be remembered and that carry some kind of message. We also
want to be able to use the same characters to carry different messages.
Consider, for example, that until recently the 2LD "delta" was not owned
by Delta Airlines. In fact, "delta" is not only a Greek letter or one-third
of a sorority, it is also part of the name of many businesses. Dr. Delta
can now register as delta.pro, Delta Dawn might register as delta.name,
and the Mississippi Delta Museum could take delta.museum. Had the new domain
names come along earlier, maybe Delta Airlines would not have wanted delta.com,
but preferred delta.aero.
I have argued in the pages of Searcher magazine that the value of
gTLD classification has been eroded. It has eroded because many erstwhile
"dot-coms" have been registering their commercial domain names on non-commercial
gTLDs. They have registered on the .org and .net gTLDs because
all too frequently mnemonic or "good" names have already been taken on
the .com domain. This practice may also serve to further protect
trade or service marks.
Not too long ago,
Logan Barnett and I wrote (again in Searcher's pages) that TLDs
and certain 2LDs could be used to facilitate the Web search process. As
more dot-coms moved to other domain space, the classification quality of
those gTLDs (which only information professionals could understand) evaporated.
These seven new gTLDs give rise to a hope that their classification value
may be at least partially maintained.
What Are the Implications?
We of the information
community should keep an eye on the unsuccessful subject classification
gTLDs proposed in this round. As information professionals, we know how
hard it is to do these classifications and the complex problems of building
consensus — it is, however, the thought that counts. These and other subject
classification gTLDs will be proposed again. We might consider our professional
and ethical stance on the matter.
Some of the new
gTLDs are "closed." Note that it is not ICANN that sets those rules. The
proposing registrar establishes the definition and membership qualifications.
For example, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) proposes
to limit registrants to its members, members that are necessarily co-ops
as defined by the NCBA. It is unclear what would constitute an entity qualified
to register under .aero — manufacturers of aircraft, flight schools,
commercial air carriers, perhaps others?
I consider .info
the "unfortunate" new domain. Its registrar has conceived it as yet another
general gTLD to compete with .com or .biz. Afilias defines
it as unrestricted to improve the Internet marketplace. Information professionals
might, however, want to consider registering under that gTLD.
There do not appear
to be any negative implications for search engines and other Internet-based
services. An informal survey of major search engines (AltaVista, Google,
HotBot, and Northern Light) indicated that none of them anticipated difficulties
in managing, indexing, and providing search access to the new gTLDs. In
addition, whois, finger, and other such services should not be affected.
What Are ccTLDs?
The old seven
and the new seven gTLDs are not alone in the world of top-level domains.
There is also the country code or ccTLDs. These are represented by the
ISO 3166 two-letter codes for countries and some regions, e.g. .ar
for Argentina, .cn for China, .fr for France, .ru
for Russia, or .ug for Uganda. Two additional root registrars and
individual country registrars manage these. In most cases, in order to
acquire a URL carrying a ccTLD, one must reside in that country. This is
not universally the case and there are a growing but small number of ccTLD
registrars — TLDs of convenience — that will accept registrations from
Many ccTLDs carry
a 2LD code that designates the "functional" purpose of the Web site. These
often mimic the gTLD. For example, a commercial site in the United Kingdom
carries the following: co.uk, an organizational site in Japan: or.jp,
and a government site in Mexico: gob.mx. Is it possible that some
ccTLDs will add something like the new seven as 2LDs? Could be.
prospectors. One of the major controversies with domain names remains
the question of trademark and copyright versus the rights associated with
the first registrant. A number of first registrants have been individuals
who register domain names hoping to profit by subsequently selling those
names to third parties. Precedent and practice by ICANN, the World Intellectual
Property Organization (WIPO), and various courts seem to indicate that
prior trademark or copyright is not absolute in determining who should
own a domain name. A number of domain names have as a consequence been
transferred from one holder to another.
In order to retain
ownership, some reasonable and logical association between the name and
the owner must be demonstrated. Will "trademarked" names on the new domains
be challenged? If such trademark associated challenges went in favor of
the challenger, the value the new gTLDs bring to expanding name space will
new names. In this most recent round, ICANN rejected several proposed
TLDs, among them .iii and .kids. Others (.xxx, .gay, .k12,
fin, health, etc.) have at times been proposed. ICANN and its predecessor
also proposed but never implemented a similar set of TLDs. We can probably
expect to see many more specialized classifications offered. And we can
probably expect that the list of gTLDs will in fact grow over time.
Koehler's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
The Domain Name
"I Think ICANN: Climbing the Internet Regulation Mountain," Searcher
vol. 8, no. 3, March 2000, pp. 49-53.
"Unraveling the Issues, Actors, and Alphabet Soup of the Great Domain Name
Debates," Searcher, vol. 7, no. 5, May 1999, p. 16-17 [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/may99/koehler.htm].
and Logan Barnett, "Domain Name Searching and World Wide Web Search Tactics,"
vol. 6, no. 2, February 1998, pp. 54-62.